- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

Alexia Niumatalolo had an important soccer game — a state playoff regional final — Tuesday night. Her father, Ken, is an assistant head coach at Navy and is preparing for the team’s most-talented opponent — seventh-ranked Notre Dame.

When football practice was over Tuesday night, Ken Niumatalolo had one place to be and it wasn’t his football office or the film room.

“Not only are we able to work and be good football coaches, but we’re able to be fathers and husbands, which I think adds a little bit more to your coaching,” Niumatalolo said. “If you’re tired and you come to work without any kind of passion and not seeing your family, I think that would be kind of hard to function at your job. We work hard, but we go home and see our families. I think that rejuvenates a person no matter what profession you’re in.”

Head coach Paul Johnson has resurrected the Navy football program, and one reason for the Midshipmen’s success is the stability on the coaching staff.

Johnson is in his fourth season as head man in Annapolis and his top nine assistants have been with him every season.

That stability is nearly unheard of at any Division I program, but it is almost unthinkable at a place where such dramatic improvement has been made.

“That’s been one of the things that has helped us,” Johnson said. “The administration has been good to help us try to keep these guys. Hopefully, it’s a good working environment. I try to give them some time with their families. When we work, we work, but when we don’t have to be here, we aren’t going to stay here just to punch the clock.”

Members of the Navy coaching staff have had opportunities to leave, but they’ve ultimately decided to stay. The biggest reason for the stability might be the hours the staff keeps.

In an era when coaches prepare more than the other guy even if it means sleeping on a cot in the office, Johnson’s staff takes a different approach. They don’t analyze opponents’ defensive formations or their team’s practice tapes until the wee hours of the morning.

“For the most part we go home after practice, which is unheard of in coaching,” Niumatalolo said. “It can’t be that complicated, but some guys like overanalyze things. We do what we do on offense and we’re going to go. I’ve always thought, if it takes you that long to figure it out, how are your kids going to figure it out?

“We’re very unique in our hours. During the week, we might go from 6 [a.m.] to 7 [p.m.] which to most people is still long, but for a football coach is real short.”

When Johnson assembled this staff, he and athletic director Chet Gladchuk outlined the plan to renovate the program both on the field and off. While Johnson and the staff have provided the wins, Gladchuk has provided the drastic improvements in the facilities he promised four years ago.

There is also the allure of the service academy atmosphere. Coaches from other teams have approached members of the staff to discuss how they’ve always wanted to coach at an academy.

“We have a bunch of knuckleheads who try to test us, but for the most part, they’re really good kids,” quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said. “I would take these kids over a place like Miami where you’ve got these hotheads and kids that are going to be making a million dollars in a year. How are you going to tell them something? They aren’t going to listen.”

Defensive line coach Dale Pherson has a good perspective on the issue. In his 10th season with the Mids, Pherson is the lone holdover from the previous administration. Pherson was hired in 1996, the final year Johnson was offensive coordinator under former head coach Charlie Weatherbie.

“You’re surrounded by class people. You get to work with great guys. A lot of the stuff that burns you out on coaching, you don’t have to deal with here,” Pherson said. “It’s also who you work with. If this staff were going to stay here, I could stay here until this staff leaves. You have great people to be around and it is fun to come to work.

“In the 10 years I’ve been here, there have been coaches here that didn’t really want to be here. They came because it was a job and they didn’t have one or whatever. They didn’t understand the place. Most of the guys here really have a feel for this place.”

When they want to get away from football, members of the staff play golf together and some go fishing. Before the season started in early August, Johnson and a few of the assistants chartered a fishing boat for a day.

“I think Coach [Chris] Culton caught the biggest fish, and it’s getting bigger and bigger every day,” defensive coordinator Buddy Green said during preseason practice. “By midseason, it’s going to be six feet long.”

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